April 24, 2006
I am probably Nashville’s only reader of “Oil & Gas Journal” and no doubt the only one who has submitted articles published there about cutting-edge techniques in oil exploration.

Off-limits reserves

I am probably Nashville’s only reader of “Oil & Gas Journal” and no doubt the only one who has submitted articles published there about cutting-edge techniques in oil exploration. According to data in this source, the premier publication in the oil industry, what do petroleum professionals know that the public should know but does not?

From the Yucatan Peninsula to Biloxi, Miss., lies an unbroken petroleum province 1,000 miles long that contains thousands of oil and gas fields that already have produced over 13 billion bbl of oil and equivalent volumes of natural gas. This world class oil provider comes to an abrupt halt at ... Tallahassee, Fla.

Is there some cataclysmic geologic change in potential reservoirs or some catastrophic disappearance of petroleum traps that could stop a thousand-mile-long oil and gas deposit dead in its tracks? Is there some international boundary that precludes all exploration east of Tallahassee? No! Quite simply, the Florida legislature long ago forbade any drilling, not just within the three-mile “state waters” protected area provided to all maritime states but all the way to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, some 1,500 miles away.

While the other states on both coasts have similarly restrictive provisions, all backed up by federal law, only Florida and California can potentially ease our need for petroleum. It appears that every American state is not created equal. It is acceptable to endanger Texas and Louisiana beaches but not those of Florida of California, where the US Geological Survey projects that these off-limits areas may well contain reserves of 4 billion bbl and 7 billion bbl of oil, respectively.

For some 50 years or more, Floridians and Californians have burned gasoline and natural gas produced somewhere other than their pristine coasts with no worries whatsoever. These heavy users of energy apparently have no sense of responsibility toward the rest of the country.

However, the Minerals Management Service has recently approved an oil and gas lease sale on the federally controlled Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) beginning not three miles but 100 miles from one state’s hitherto sacred shores. Sale 181 off Florida’s west coast begins at Tallahassee. US Senate Bill S. 2253 was voted out of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee 16-5 in favor. Both Democrat and Republican senators from Florida have vowed to filibuster the measure. Voters in other areas must urge their senators to defeat that threatened filibuster. Energy security should trump party loyalty. Why does Florida get a free ride when all the other nonmaritime states are open to unlimited exploration and grateful for the ensuing economic activity?

While Florida currently produces a mere 6,000 b/d of onshore oil, California produces over 700,000 b/d. However, the two states’ other potentially recoverable offshore reserves exceed those projected in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Comparable amounts of natural gas are projected for these areas as well. Yet these areas are taboo for drilling and production. At present, total domestic reserves for the entire US stand at 21 billion bbl. Two recalcitrant states, by opening fields off their shores and out of sight of land, could add 50% to national oil and gas reserves. But they refuse to contribute to our national supplies of desperately needed oil and gas.

Such an insultingly superior attitude has persisted much too long. It is time for the overwhelming majority of US citizens to say to these preening prima donnas, “Step up to your long-avoided duty to provide some of the energy you have been guzzling for 50 years.” For states too pure to pull their weight, there must be a time of accountability.

Because of their 50-year hiatus from drilling, the playboy states of Florida and California can now enjoy the benefits of scientific research and field-tested safety techniques that render offshore drilling and production far more safe from spills than are the hordes of oil tankers playing their coasts every day. Exhaustive research shows that, in California, natural oil seeps are leaking more oil and methane gas (20 times more destructive than carbon dioxide) than are being released on the Texas-Louisiana coast. By producing these fields, the push of oil and gas to the surface by formation pressures will be reduced, thereby minimizing pollution.

If ever there were a supposedly intelligent society shooting itself in the foot, that society must reside in Florida and California. The economic activity and increase of state income derived from production royalties would bring welcome tax relief to overburdened individuals and businesses. If ever there were a win-win opportunity, it exists in these two states. Nonetheless, because the obstructive politicians and career environmentalists have a vested interest in keeping the public “informed,” we can expect a rabid negative response to this new Congressional proposal.

Now comes the hilariously ironic situation in Florida. Cuba, as reported by Rep. John E. Peterson (R-Pa.), has sold to Canadian, Chinese, Indian, Venezuelan, and Norwegian companies the rights to explore in Cuban waters within 60 miles of American soil (read Florida). Development of discoveries in the region of the Cuban leases could lead to drilling as close as 40 miles to the Florida Keys. I cannot imagine a more richly deserved comeuppance. And what are the options for (Florida governor) Jeb Bush? At last report he had no navy to defend his state. Maybe he could borrow a flotilla from his brother (President Bush).

It may be late to reap the petroleum harvest off Florida’s shores, but with approval of Sale 181 we can fend off foreign exploration of at least some of our own resources. Must we compete with Chinese overtures to secure the riches of offshore California as well?

(For further information, consult the four February 2006 issues of “Oil & Gas Journal.”)

Gerry G. Calhoun